SIU aviation team soaring to new heights

By Storey Mayer

After winning the national championship in 2011, the Flying Salukis kept expectations high when they won the 2014 National Intercollegiate Flying Association Championship in May.

The championship was held from May 12-17 at the Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio.

The Flying Salukis have won nine championships in its history, and finished in third place in 2012 and 2013.


Jacob Schwarz, a junior studying aviation management from St. Charles, Mo., said a Flying Saluki embodies the traits of motivation, perseverance and total dedication.

The team is evaluated during tryouts by the head and assistant coaches. The team members quickly dive into training and preparation for the regional challenge, which takes place within five to six weeks of making the team.

Dave NewMyer, chairperson of SIU’s Department of Aviation Management and Flight, said the practices are intense.

He said Flying Saluki teammates spend countless hours in the classroom and the cockpit preparing for events and often stay until late in the night perfecting their craft.

James Libuszowski, assistant instructor of aviation management and flight, is one of the assistant coaches, as well as a former Flying Saluki team member. He said the practice strategies are kept tight-lipped, a technique that he said keeps the team’s tactics unknown from other competitors.

The competitions are divided into ground and flight categories. These two are then broken down to 11 subcategories.

Future pilots focus on events that will allow them to use their aviation skills in the air.


One example is the message drop, an event that NewMyer said is a civilian version of a bomb drop. The contender, known as a drop master, has to release a 5-pound sack of flour from nearly 500 feet in the air while traveling around 70-90 mph and land the sack as close to the target as possible.

Other aviation-related majors, such as aviation mechanics, excel at the ground events.

More inexperienced students often begin in the ground events until they gain more experience in the cockpit. In one event, a plane is “bugged,” or purposely made to have defects. The competitor is given 15 minutes to perform the inspection and detect all the anomalies. Whoever completes the inspection the most efficiently and quickly wins.

The Flying Salukis are a smaller team with only 14 members, compared to the second-place finisher, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott, a team that competes with 20-30 members. Because of its limited numbers, the Flying Salukis dedicate most of their time and practice to a specific event.

Rather than let the high expectations intimidate them, the team said they use it as a personal challenge and goal setter. Each year the team members emphasize their coined phrase, “This is OUR year,” to encourage each other to excel.

After the weeklong national competition, the awards ceremony was held following the last day of the competition. At the ceremony, all of the individual winners were announced as well as overall team winners.

Despite the team having confidence, they were still shocked by the results.

“We were pretty surprised,” Libuszowski said. “We felt we did well, but it is always an unreal feeling to be announced as national champions.”

The Flying Salukis knew they had a chance at 1st-place overall because of their first-place win in the flight categories. But with 4th-place in ground events, they were not sure if they could pull it off.

The team was supported by a group of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and coaches, who traveled all the way to Ohio to see the team perform.

NewMyer said the success was not only beneficial and exciting for the team, but for the university as a whole.

“It shows that we (SIU) are winners,” NewMyer said. “We are able to brag on a number of fronts and it adds to the legend of the university.”

Storey Mayer can be reached at [email protected] 

or 536-3311 ext. 254